How to Teach Well, and is the State of Texas Helping Promote that Ideal?

A little over a week ago, I attended a set of micro-teachings by the faculty members enrolled in this year’s Baylor’s Summer Facultry Institute.  In it, each faculty gave a 15 minute “mini lecture” on some topic related to their field.  Following this presentation, each professor was commented on by his or her peers.  I was mostly a mere observer who peppered in a few comments, but the experience I gained from walking away from this session was invaluable.  Among the many things I learned, perhaps the most important thing I learned is this: every faculty must learn to teach in the way they do best, this method can (and inevitably WILL) vary for every person, and many different teaching techniques are all good techniques.  For so long, I have been trying to mold myself into the “best teacher I can be” based on how other professors teach.  While I can still learn a ton from other professors, I realized that I have to develop my own style as well.  More importantly, I have to accept that my own style will most likely be the best way I can teach.  That is, as long as I put effort forward and never stop being a learner of teaching.

On a a similar note, Texas has passed a “reform plan” focused on improving faculty performance.  Or is it?  According to a recent Opinionatory blog by Stanley Fish in the New York Times, perhaps not.  I tend to agree with him.  The new reform allows the State government to give out monetary awards to faculty members based on…get this…student evaluations.  For those of you who teach, you know how problematic this can be.  I can speak for myself as someone who teaches for a State university (Tarleton State University) that has been enrolled in competing for these awards.  The immediate thought I have is, “I’ll never get the money because my class is too challenging, I force them to learn, and I make them struggle to figure a lot of things out for themselves.  Thus, most of my students do not evaluate my course positively.”  Sadly, most of my students rate my very positively as a teacher and say they learned a lot, but everything else about the course gets bombed with low evaluations because it’s too difficult.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am there as there guide to help them, but I try to be little more.  I find that handing out outlines and giving students all the answers halts rather than promotes the process of learning.  But guess which method students love more and evaluate more positively?  You guessed it.  Generally, with the exception of a few students, the formula generally goes like this: 1) as little work as possible + 2) as easy of tests as possible (or preferably no tests) + 3) The more answers you just give them (full outlined powerpoints anyone?) + 4) the more classes cancelled + 5) the less “real work” you do in class + 6) no paper assignments = higher evaluations.  Now, why would our government be promoting faculty to aim for more positive student evaluations?  More importantly, can students properly evaluate what is good for them at the time they are receiving it?  Your thoughts are welcome.  And I definitely recommend you read the blog in the NYT.

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About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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